What I've Been Reading and Watching

Saturday, December 28, 2019
I’ve already written a couple of end-of-year blog posts and it’s too early to write a looking-forward post, so today I’m just going to do a little ruminating on things I’ve read and watched lately. We’ve had some cold, rainy days in Tucson, which has led me to want to snuggle in my recliner with a book, my Kindle, or a movie. I see why the move to Arizona was a good one, since I’d probably accomplish nothing all winter if I still lived in the northeast.

I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction as background and research for my historical mystery series. I rarely read non-fiction from cover to cover, instead sampling a bit here and a bit there, flipping pages to find what I need to know to write a scene. That makes it hard to write any kind of review about these books, since all the information gets muddled together.

Here is some of the fiction I’ve read this month:

The Case of the Dangerous Dowager
(Perry Mason #10)
by Erle Stanley Gardner - 5 stars

At least, Goodreads tells me I rated this one five stars. I honestly had to read the blurb to remember what this book was about. My brain is too full of my own books right now to remember what other writers have written, but I still enjoy a Perry Mason mystery, and I do remember being eager to get back to reading this one.


Friday, December 20, 2019
Two-thousand-nineteen is ending on a high note. Within the past hour, I finished revisions on the prequel to my new mystery series. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s ready to read yet. I have to put it through ProWritingAid, which will check grammar, spelling, punctuation, and check for style issues like passive voice. And then comes the final step, where I read the entire book out loud. This serves two purposes: to check for typos that my eyes skip over because my brain knows what’s supposed to be there, and listening for cadence. Sentences have rhythm. Short sentences speed up the tempo of the story, while longer ones slow it down. Too many of either kind in a row is boring to the reader. It’s best to vary sentence and word lengths with what’s going on in a scene.

But the essence of the book is done!

Because I also finished the first draft of the first book in this series earlier this month, I’m in a terrific position to start releasing this series early in 2020. And then today, while eating lunch and watching Live PD Cam, I saw an idea for the premise of the second book in the series. This plot has me really excited. Yes, watching TV can be research for writing novels.

Six months ago, I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me I’d be looking at publishing several books in a new series. I was discouraged because my first idea for a change didn’t work out so well. I knew I’d made a wrong genre choice, I had no idea how to continue my African Violet Club mystery series, and I had no ideas for something else new. I was facing the first year in a long time when I wouldn’t publish a single new book. In other words, I was pretty close to hitting bottom as far as a writing career went.

Then three things happened.


2019 in Review

Friday, December 13, 2019
It doesn’t seem like a whole year has gone by since I wrote up my goals for 2019 and tacked them to the bulletin board in my office. I finished 2018 by publishing the sixth book in my African Violet Club mysteries, “Holly Green Murder”, with the feeling that series had come to an end and not quite sure what I was going to write next. I thought I could write a series of cowboy romance novels, take advantage of the popularity of romance, and stretch my writing muscles. I was determined to attend the 20 Books conference for indie authors in Las Vegas in November. I was going to up my marketing game with the hopes of improving sales. Some of this happened. Some of it didn’t.

Personal Goals:

I continued my daily routine of morning prayer and devotional reading, For most of the year, I belonged to a Bible study group that required not only Bible reading, but discussion of what we read. Toward the end of the year, I realized that it was hard to keep up with that group and the homework and concentrate on my fiction-writing goals.
I continued going to Weight Watchers and, most times, an exercise group that meets three days a week in the clubhouse of my apartment community. I succeeded in losing forty pounds by following the program of healthy eating and am proud that I stuck with it through the never-ending two-month plateau before the pounds began to come off again.

Reading Goals:

I committed to reading twenty-four novels in 2019 and actually read thirty-four.
I set a goal of reading four craft books and actually read nine.
I also read at least four non-fiction books as research for my historical novels. I think there were double that number, but I don’t necessarily track those on Goodreads because I tend to read them over a long period of time and not all at once.

Writing Goals:

Write a blog post once per week. I was mostly successful at this, although there were several weeks when I had nothing to say.
Compose and send a newsletter once per month. I only missed November.
Write a total of 200,000 new words for the year. I doubted that I’d make this goal when I set it. After all, I’d only written about half that amount in prior years. But due to a commitment to write every day, I managed over 176,000 words of fiction and almost 30,000 words of blog and newsletter posts, for a grand total of 203,593 words. And that’s not counting this blog post or what else I might write in the next couple of weeks. Yay me!

Things that didn’t go so well:

I wanted to publish at least three books in 2019, hopefully four. I published none. This weighed on me through a good part of the year. After all, if you want to make money from your writing, you have to publish the books so they can sell.
But the first book I tackled was that cowboy romance. I went into it with the thought of “how hard can it be?” I’d written several romantic subplots in my mysteries and enjoyed doing them. Shifting to a story that was primarily romance, that had well-defined plot points and well-known tropes, should be easy, right? All I had to do was fill in the blanks.
Not quite.
I discovered that writing romance is a lot harder than it looks, and I developed a whole new respect for romance writers. I struggled my way to “The End’. I wound up with a hot mess that needs some serious revision to become a book someone will want to read. I also noticed that I snuck a mystery into my romance novel. I didn’t think of it as a mystery when I came up with that subplot, but by the time I finished writing the first draft, I saw what my muse had done.
Which told me that mystery really is my genre.
So I started on the historical mystery series that I’d also brainstormed off and on during the year. That has gone a lot smoother, although it’s required a lot of research into what life was like during the Gilded Age. I didn’t intend to get a history degree this late in life.
So I end 2019 with drafts of three new novels, all of which I hope to revise and publish in 2020. Not so bad after all.

By the end of the year, I hope to have my goals for 2020 firmly in place. I’m sure I will, since I’ve been listing my goals every year for over a decade. I’m looking forward to next year! I hope you are, too.

Behind the Books of a New Series

Saturday, December 07, 2019
Old Nantasket Books

Twenty years ago, I was dating a man who lived in Hull, Massachusetts, a small town south of Boston. I was living in New York at the time, and while most weekends he traveled down to meet me, on occasion I also went to Massachusetts to visit him.

Joshua James

The town has a fascinating history. Fort Revere, formerly Fort Independence, is a Revolutionary War military installation and historic landmark that shows how far back that history goes. Off its coast is Boston Light, the oldest lighthouse in America and still functioning as a lighthouse. Hull also had a lifesaving station, now a museum, whose commander was the famous Joshua James.

Most interesting to me was that Hull was the playground of the rich before the invention of the automobile enabled people to travel to Cape Cod for a summer weekend. You can still see one of the vacation homes where John F. Kennedy spent summers in his childhood in Hull. Referred to as the Honey Fitz Mansion, it was built by John Francis Fitzgerald, two-time mayor of Boston and JFK’s grandfather. Across the street is the children’s playhouse, which is larger than many family homes today.

Eventually, because of my relationship and the need to find a new job, I moved to the South Shore of Massachusetts, and, for one dream year, to Hull itself. I’d never lived in a small town before, certainly never in one with pre-revolutionary history, and definitely not a summer town, which every year between Memorial Day and Labor Day transformed itself into something very different from what it was in winter. I was fascinated with everything about the town. Including those years during the Gilded Age when it was a microcosm of the excess and political corruption present in more well-known locations.



Sunday, November 10, 2019

I’ve just finished “Lifelong Writing Habit” by Chris Fox. Chris has written a number of writing books in addition to his prolific production of fiction, mostly in the science fiction and fantasy genres. This craft book focuses on learning to use habits to become more productive.

As we all know, habits are ingrained behaviors we do without thinking much about them. Mine include getting up when the cats won’t let me sleep any longer, feeding said cats, and putting on the coffee. The biggest decision I have to make in my still-sleepy brain is which can of cat food to feed them. My cats are finicky (is there any other kind?), kind of like two-year-olds in that a favorite food becomes something they don’t like at all without any warning. So I try to make sure to feed them a variety with the hope that they won’t tire of any particular one just when I’ve laid in a two-months supply.

But back to habits.

Up until recently, the next thing I did was turn on my computer, check my sales so far this month, then get sucked into the vortex of Facebook. It’s something to do while I drink that first cup of coffee, and I tell myself that it’s productive because I catch up on the latest advertising techniques and publishing news and all that. Except that I generally also get lost in cat videos and outrage. Several hours later, I’ve run out of new Facebook postings and get up out of my chair. Reading “Lifelong Writing Habit” has convinced me to abandon that habit, no matter how strong the siren call of it is, and start my day differently so I will be writing before I’ve exhausted myself with social media drama.

Because all those angry postings are drama and drama is exhausting. During the World Series, the announcers talked a lot about “stress pitches.” It takes a lot more out of a pitcher to face a batter when the bases are loaded with no one out than when there are two outs and the bases are empty. Similarly, if the score is 10-to-1 in your favor, it’s easy to face the next batter. If it’s 10-to-1 against, there’s more stress. So while in recent years, it’s been all about the pitch count to determine how long a pitcher can stay in the game, the announcers were pointing out that if most of those pitches were stress pitches, keeping a pitcher in for one hundred of them was likely to result in disaster.



Friday, November 01, 2019
Woman typing on a laptop

Today it begins!

What’s that you ask? Well, other than the start of the month of November, it is also the start of National Novel Writing Month, fondly known as NaNoWriMo by those who participate. All over the world, thousands of novelists will be attempting to write a 50,000 word novel in one month. I’m going to be one of them.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done NaNoWriMo. In fact, the first three books of my African Violet Club mystery series started out as NaNo novels. But long before that, in 2004, I did my first NaNoWriMo. For three years, I’d been trying to complete my first novel. Like most new novelists, I was struggling. I’d get so far and then stall out. I didn’t know what to write. My story sucked. I was lost and frustrated and depressed.

Then I heard of this insane (to me) event where a bunch of people committed to writing a novel in a single month. It didn’t have to be a good novel. It just had to be done. You couldn’t write a single word until November 1st, and with any luck, you’d type your fifty-thousandth word on November 30th. Ideally that would be the word “End,” and the word before it would be “The.”

Something incredible happens when your focus is on writing 1667 words every day for thirty days. You don’t have time to worry about whether they’re good words or the right words or, sometimes, whether they make any sense. You have to put your internal editor on vacation. For a perfectionist like me, that’s tough to do. But it was the secret to actually getting to “The End” for me. That first year, I wrote a 50,690 word novel called “A Pearl of Great Price.” It was a mystery, of course.

There are all kinds of tricks to accomplish this. One is going to group write-ins. Local Nano’ers will meet at a specified time and place and work on their novels together for a few hours. The Municipal Liaisons bring swag, little things associated with writing or just for fun. Often there will be writing sprints, where everyone has to type as many words they can in 15 minutes (or some other arbitrary amount of time). At the end, you compare notes.

There are plot bunnies, something everyone tries to include in their story in the next writing sprint. Various people might throw these ideas out. Most of the time, they’ll have nothing to do with the novel you’re writing. But that’s what makes it fun. If you’re writing a cowboy romance and the plot bunny is a medieval knight, you have to come up with a way to include it. Usually, it doesn’t make sense. But your imagination, under pressure, sometimes comes up with something incredible, something that takes your novel in a direction you never thought about.

I first finished a novel on November 30th of that year. I still have it on my hard drive. It’s not something I’d publish. Not in its current form anyway. Some day I’ll have to read through it and see if there’s anything worth salvaging. But that hardly matters. What I learned was not only that I could finish a novel, but how to do it. It’s no big secret. You put your butt in the chair, your hands on the keyboard, and don’t stop (except for breaks every once in a while) until you hit your word count goal for the day. As Nora Roberts says, you can’t edit a blank page.

I rarely do write-ins now. I don’t use plot bunnies to increase my word count. But, if I’m close to starting a new novel toward the end of the year, I’ll usually join NaNo to encourage me to work on it every day. This is one of those years. Let the typing begin!

Little Girl Dreams

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Every little girl dreams about what she wants to be when she grows up. When I was a child, princess was a favorite idea. We’d make crowns out of construction paper and decorate them with crayons. One of our mother’s old dresses became a suitable gown for our make-believe princess selves.

I’ve often mentioned how I wrote my first story in kindergarten. Throughout the years, I continued to write stories. When I was getting ready to go to college, my mother asked me what I wanted to be. I said, “A writer.” I’m not sure why this caught her by surprise, or maybe it was dismay. I do know that her response was, “You could be a teacher and write books in the summer.” That pretty much dashed my hopes of following that career. (A long story for another blog.)

But another dream I had was of being an astronaut. In fifth grade, I discovered a book called “The Rolling Stones” in our school library. This was long before the British rock group came into being. No, it was about a family named Stone that traveled the solar system, a kind of RVing in space. I’d never read science fiction before, and I had my doubts about whether I’d like it or not. But how could I resist a story about a family with my last name?

I loved it! In fact, I then proceeded to read every Heinlein juvenile I could get my hands on. I widened my reading to Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark, Lester del Rey, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Silverberg—too many to mention. I always liked science, so science fiction was a perfect match for me.

With the selection of the Mercury Seven and the suborbital flights that led to landing on the moon, it seemed as if all the wonderful adventures I’d read about were very close to becoming reality. And one of my dreams became to be an astronaut.

Even while I had it, I knew it wasn’t very realistic. Astronauts were all from the military at that time. That meant being in excellent physical shape and being able to run obstacle courses and such. I’ve been overweight my entire life. I’m also not very coordinated. I was the one who was picked last—if at all—when teams were chosen in school. (Except for spelling bees, where I was picked first, of course.) I knew I’d never pass the physical tests, much less the rigorous training astronauts had to go through.

What I didn’t know was that John F. Kennedy’s dream of landing a man on the moon would be over once we accomplished that. No one else (until Donald Trump) thought space exploration was important. We gave up building rockets to go to the moon and instead built the space shuttle. Then we gave up building spacecraft at all, instead relying on the Russians to bring us to the International Space Station and back. It turned out astronaut wasn’t a viable career for anyone for a while. Or at least, only for very few.

So you can imagine how excited I was when the news was full of the first all-woman spacewalk yesterday. Not only has our space program been reinvigorated, but women are a major part of it. I felt a pang of regret that I was now too old to ever be an astronaut, but happy tears came to my eyes when one of the women (I think it was Christine Koch, but it may have been Jessica Meir) was interviewed by the media. The reporter asked when she had decided to become an astronaut. Her answer? “When I was five.”

Tears because one little girl had her dream come true. Yay, her!

There has also been a happy ending for me. While my dreams of being a princess or an astronaut turned out to be impractical, I’ve been following my dream of being a writer for almost twenty years. You’re never too old to be a writer.

Photo Credit: NASA

Lions and Tigers and Bears! Oh My!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019
That about describes how I’ve been feeling recently—as if I encounter wild animals every day. Oh, not literally, but between writing, my critique group, working on the newsletter for my Sisters in Crime chapter, marketing, and going all-in on selling books on Amazon, I feel like I’m always dodging a beast that might devour me. The latest crises had to do with my website.

Almost two years ago, I decided that I needed a more professional website for my author business. All the cool kids were using self-hosted WordPress sites, so I thought I needed one, too. I did a lot of research on various hosting companies, what theme I should use, and what plugins I should add. Eventually, I concluded that GoDaddy, where I already had my domain registered, actually gave the best pricing over the long term. Besides, I was familiar with them.

I then spent an agonizing couple of months while I battled with WordPress. Everyone says how easy WordPress is to use, but I found it anything but easy. Now, maybe it’s easy compared to hand coding HTML and CSS and Javascript, but there’s still an awful lot to learn. Eventually, with a lot of help from a writer friend, I managed to figure out what I was doing and put together my current website.


All the Lovely Ladies

Saturday, September 28, 2019
older women sitting on a bench

This past week I went to meetings of all three groups I belong to. They each have their own purpose, but one thing they have in common is that each is a group of lovely ladies.
On Monday, my newly-formed critique group met at my apartment. I’ll only briefly mention the amount of preparation that took on my part. My cats and I have a tendency to ignore dust and fur balls, but when you have company coming, you suddenly notice that you haven’t cleaned in over a month.
Unfortunately, only Pat made it. One member, Kelli, was away at a writers conference, and poor Anita found a flat tire when she went to leave her house. But Pat and I made the best of it, going over my critique of her chapter, and chatting about various writerly things over coffee.
The last time the group met, I didn’t make it. For some reason, I had gotten it stuck in my head that the meeting was at a member’s home north of me, when it was really at a home south of me. By the time I’d figured out my mistake, it was too late to go. But what impressed me was that Kelli called me when I was twenty minutes late to find out if I was okay. They were concerned that something had happened to me.
We’ve only been meeting for a short time, so I never expected them to care whether I made it or not.
After a week’s hiatus while I worked feverishly to finish the first draft of my latest WIP, I went to the morning exercise group at my apartment complex. Now, this is old lady exercise. A lot of it is chair exercise, and we do modified squats and “push-ups” from a standing position. But I”m not in the greatest of shape, so it suits me at this stage of my life. Plus I don’t have to get in my car to go to it.
Most of the members are at least a decade older than I am. There are also two men, but they don’t say much. For the second month in a row, the women urged me to attend the monthly wine and cheese party at the clubhouse. I never have, partly because I am younger than they are, and partly because wine and cheese and crackers have a lot of WW points. They’ve also asked if I’m going to the bingo games.
So far, I’ve resisted bingo, but it’s nice to be asked.
Last, but certainly not least, is my Thursday morning Bible study group. I joined this group early this year because I missed the organized study of the Bible during the week. I also thought it might be a good way to meet people at my new church.
The lessons are challenging, to say the least. At my previous church, Bible study largely consisted of the pastor teaching about the scripture lessons for the following Sunday. We got to ask questions, but it was more like a class than a group. In this group, we have homework to prepare for our discussions. The booklets we use are on one book of the Bible or a specific topic, and there are weekly assignments. On Thursday mornings, we get together to discuss our answers.
I like the fact that all of us are traveling together on this journey. The leader has a leader’s guide, but we usually only refer to it when we’re stuck on a question or the woman who is the leader has read something in it she thought particularly interesting.
We’ve not only learned a lot about the Bible in these studies, but a lot about one another. In a way, the Bible is a handbook for living, and we often discuss the verses we’re studying in light of our own personal problems and journeys.
As a result, there are a number of women who know my name, who greet me with joy on Sunday mornings. I’m always glad to see them. It’s certainly made attending church more enjoyable.
While the three groups have totally different interests—exercise, writing, and Bible study—I realized this week that they’re all composed of lovely ladies.

Books Purged, Books Kept

Friday, September 06, 2019
I recently purchased a copy of Lawrence Block’s book The Liar’s Bible. This is a collection of some of his essays that appeared in Writers Digest for years. One resonated strongly with me, specifically the one on purging and keeping books.

I think all writers were readers first, and they have an inordinate love for books. I vividly remember the day I asked my mother to teach me to read (before I’d even started kindergarten) because I didn’t want to wait for her to read from the book of fairytales that was my favorite.

We didn’t own a lot of books because we didn’t have a lot of money. I do remember the set of Encyclopedia Americana, because I used it frequently when researching homework assignments. Owning a set of encyclopedia seemed to be required in the fifties for those who had children who aspired to going to college. And I do remember that when my father converted half of the attic of our cape cod to a bedroom for me, he included a built-in bookcase. I eventually almost filled the two shelves with books I received as presents or managed to buy for myself. The only books I clearly remember owning were a few Nancy Drew mysteries.

It was when I went to college that I began collecting books in earnest. Once I bought a textbook, it was mine, and it took me until late in my junior year to convince myself that it was okay to buy used books for required courses that I knew I would have no use for later on, and then to sell them back to the bookstore at the end of the term. I also discovered that there were bookstores with separate sections for science fiction novels. This was a wonder to me, since genre fiction, pulp fiction, was something I’d only read from magazines, and gotten a carefully curated collection from the library.
Later on, when I had a full-time job and some discretionary income, I made regular trips to Borders and Barnes and Noble to buy new books. I generally left the store with a shopping bag and many hours of reading.

By the time I sold my house, I had seven bookshelves, most of them floor-to-ceiling, overfilled with books. Paperbacks were two-deep on many shelves. But I was moving from a house with three bedrooms and an enormous living/dining room, not to mention a garage, to a small two-bedroom apartment, and I knew some of those books had to go.

How to decide which ones?


What I Read in August

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Murder At Melrose Court: A 1920s Country House Murder (Heathcliff Lenox #1)
Karen Menuhin

A classic English mystery that hits all the notes. Major Heathcliff Lennox discovers the body of a fat man on his doorstep just as he’s about to leave to join some friends at their country house for the holidays. He has no idea who the man is or why he’s appeared on his doorstep. After being delayed in his departure while the police investigate, he embarks on his trip.
This is the first of three bodies that Major Lennox will encounter. The second is the Countess Sophia, a Russian émigré who is now the fiancé of his host, the uncle of his best friend, Edgar. Since she was shot with Major Lennox’s pistol, he’s the primary suspect, although he swears he had nothing to do with it.
Heavy snows keep the police from completing their investigation, so Lennox decides to solve the crime on his own. He collects evidence and questions everyone in the house, and, of course, discovers whodunnit. The weather clears enough for the police to arrive and hear his explanation.
A well-written story that I mostly enjoyed. There was a brief section in the middle where it did seem to drag a bit, but once I was through that, I was eager to read to the end.
There’s a second book in this series, which I’ve place on my to-read list.


Della Street, the Surprising Secretary

Sunday, August 25, 2019

A short while ago, I discovered that the first five seasons of the Perry Mason TV show, popular in the nineteen-fifties and sixties, were available on Amazon Prime. This was one of my favorite shows when I was young, and remains a favorite. Like most television series, each episode followed a set formula.
We’re usually introduced to the client in some relatively innocent context. There’s a scene where the person finds themself in some circumstance that leads them to consult Perry Mason on a legal matter, which Perry promises to take care of with no hint that the result can be anything but positive.
Not too long afterwards, this client becomes the primary suspect in a murder. (You’d think they’d learn not to consult Perry Mason, knowing that the next thing that would happen was they’d be encountering a dead body, but no one puts this together any more than they do the fact that a visit to Cabot Cover is generally lethal.) Naturally, they call Perry Mason, if he hasn’t already arrived at the crime scene.


What I've Been Doing This Summer

Sunday, August 11, 2019
Each month I like to talk a little bit about what I’m doing other than writing books. That gets harder in the summer, because as I’ve often pointed out, summer in Arizona is like winter in the North: I mostly stay indoors because it’s too hot to do anything outside. This is especially true in July and August, when sudden monsoon thunderstorms can leave streets running like rivers. I remember one day back when I was working when I had to stop at a Starbucks for an hour on my way home to let the water recede enough for me to go the rest of the way.

One thing I continue to do is attend the Ladies’ Bible Study on Thursday mornings at my church. Even the name of the group sounds folksy and old-fashioned, so it wasn’t too threatening for this introvert to show up to for the first time. I originally started going as a way of meeting some women in my new church, but I’m finding the readings and discussions enlightening.


Behind the Books of a New Series

Sunday, August 04, 2019
My alter ego is writing a different kind of mystery this summer. It’s different enough that I’m writing it under a pen name because I think the audience is slightly different from the one that reads cozy mysteries. Not that my current readers won’t enjoy it. I’m sure some of them will. But there won’t be any quirky characters, the sleuth will be a professional rather than an amateur, and I won’t have to keep worrying about whether to include a cat or not.

As I was writing my historical western romance novel in the spring, I enjoyed learning about life in the 1870s. I started thinking about writing this new series in an earlier time as well. Perhaps becoming a Downton Abbey fan led me in that direction. In some ways, life was simpler then. In others, it was more complicated.


Books I Read in July

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Return (End Times Alaska Book 3)

by Craig Martelle

I didn’t like this book as much as the first two books in this series. For one thing, Chuck Nagy, the main character in these books, spends a significant time away from the other characters, but what goes on with them while he’s gone is still told in his voice. That bothered me a lot. The thing is, it could have been easily fixed by starting those scenes with something like “When I got back to the Community, I learned I was not the only one who was missing in action.” But instead, I had to make that assumption myself.

There was also a lack of tension in a lot of this book. As I implied above, there are three groups who go off from the Community in search of various things. That makes for a lot of traveling scenes, with what seemed like minor misadventures along the way. Sometimes the misadventures were missing. The people are delayed, but they’re not in serious jeopardy. Even when they are, the story is told in a detached manner, so you don’t feel it. I think this could have been fixed by telling some of this through the points of view of the worried wives, but that’s not the style of these books.

And then came the line that made me stop dead and realize why I didn’t this book:


Writing as a Habit

Friday, July 19, 2019

July is turning out to be an amazing month for writer-me. First of all, I joined Holly Lisle’s Summer of Fiction Writing to keep me motivated as I draft what I thought was the first book in a historical mystery series. And then I joined a Cabin of indie writers for Camp NaNoWriMo because it popped up in a Facebook group I belong to.

I’ve missed the goals group I used to moderate for the Guppies chapter of Sisters in Crime. I knew I would when I decided to leave the Guppies, but I’d outgrown that chapter. It was originally founded to support new mystery writers, and while published authors tend to stick around these days, they also tend not to participate in the discussion unless they have a new book to promote. Not all of them, of course, but too many in my opinion.

Belonging to a goals group (the Guppies wasn’t the first one I’d been in) gives me one thing I need in order to make consistant progress in my writing: accountability. It’s amazing how much your attitude changes when you have to tell someone else what you’ve accomplished each week. It’s even more amazing when you’ve promised them what you intend to accomplish the week before. No longer can you get away with such vague thoughts as “I should work on my novel this week.” No, there for all the world to see, you’ve put in writing “I will write 5,000 words on my novel this week.”


Now, neither SOFW nor CampNano is exactly a goals group, although you do set a writing goal for each one. In Holly Lisle’s group, people acknowledged that they needed more regular accountability than the massive three-month statement of what they intended to accomplish by August 31st. Holly has “weekly” milestone posts, which are one for each of your seven working day periods. So if you’re only working five days a week, your Day 35 check-in is going to happen almost a week after that of someone who’s writing seven days a week. So different threads have been set up for monthly and daily goals to suit how the various members want to report their progress. With Nano, there’s the ability to chart in how many words you’re up to each day.

Because of these two events, I’ve been forming a writing habit. I know I have to write a certain number of words each day to accomplish my goal of finishing the first draft of a book in a new mystery series by the end of August. I know how many days there are between the time I started and the time I should be done. Taking into account that I have scheduled days off (writing seven days a week leads to burn-out and exhaustion for me), simple math came up with I need to write 1100 words a day to accomplish my goal.

Since I know I’m going to have to put my success or failure out in public, I’m much more motivated to prioritize writing time. If for some reason I don’t get my words completed in the morning (like yesterday’s Red Sox day game), I make myself sit at my desk later in the day. Last night it was closing in on 8:00 PM before I put my butt in my chair, and I got over 1200 words done before I quit for the day.

And today I’m writing this blog before breakfast so that afterwards I’ll have my usual block of time to continue working on the novel.

Because goal setting works so well for me, if Holly doesn’t set up a Fall of Fiction Writing event, I think I’m going to start a Facebook group for writers to track writing goals. I hope at least a few of the writers I know want to join it.


Saturday, July 06, 2019
I’m a Red Sox fan. When you live in the Boston area for any period of time, it’s hard not to be, and somehow that loyalty follows you wherever you live after that. That’s why Red Sox Nation is an international phenomenon.
I got spoiled last year. We all got spoiled.
Two-thousand eighteen was one of those magical years for the Red Sox when everything went right. Grand slams were common. Everybody got one. Pitching was phenomenal. The Sox piled up wins like beavers do sticks when building a new dam in the spring. And, of course, the piece de resistance: they won the World Series convincingly.

I had one of those phenomenal years as a writer in 2016. Oh, it was nothing like Hugh Howey or Mark Dawson money, but I definitely made a profit on my writing, and I thought I was on my way to a comfortable supplement to my retirement income. I also had fun getting there.

That was the year I released the first three books in my African Violet Club mystery series. Writing the first book had started out as a lark. My first attempt at a mystery series wasn’t successful. I made a lot of mistakes, both in the writing and in the marketing of it. So, when NaNoWriMo rolled around, I decided I was going to write a just-for-fun book, something not serious at all, something that would never be published.
That was the first draft of True Blue Murder, and I had a great time doing it. The next year, not having made much progress on my “serious” writing, I wrote a second book with the same cast of characters. Again I had fun doing it, because I loved Lilliana and her friends and there was no pressure on me to make it a perfect book.
By year three, I realized I had the beginning of an engaging cozy mystery series. This time, I used NaNoWriMo to write Royal Purple Murder, and I knew it would be published.
Writing the books the way I had meant that I could do something called “rapid release.” If I revised all of the books before publishing any of them, I could take advantage of the Amazon algorithms, which favor new books over old. In other words, Amazon would do some of my marketing for me, by showing each of the books to potential readers free of charge.
That’s what I did in 2016. I published each of the first three books in the AVC mystery series approximately a month apart. And I earned money.
Unfortunately, it took me another year to publish the fourth book. While some writers can publish a book a month, I’m a much slower writer. All the momentum I’d built up with my rapid release had evaporated by that time. I had to work harder to sell it and the two books that followed.
I knew that in order to be successful as an indie author, I needed to publish a book every three months. I even made “production schedules” for a couple of years showing how I was going to do that. Unfortunately, my production didn’t meet the schedule.
I had another problem: Lilliana had a character arc. Now, this is supposed to be a good thing in fiction. Almost all the books you read on how to write a novel insist that the character has to change over the course of it, learn a lesson, and live the rest of her life differently because of what she’s learned. Now, that works fine for a single book, like a romance novel. Not so much for an ongoing series.
If you’ve read a lot of mysteries, you probably know that Miss Marple doesn’t change, Sherlock Holmes doesn’t change, Jack Reacher doesn’t change. Stephanie Plum is never going to choose between Ranger and Morelli. What changes is the plot. Even the plot doesn’t change a whole lot. You have a new victim, a new murderer, a new motive, but the stories follow a pattern that readers have come to expect. (That’s the same for romance and every other type of genre fiction.)
By the end of Holly Green Murder, Lilliana had changed from the woman she was in True Blue Murder. I couldn’t imagine her going on to solve more crimes.
I struggled with this the same way I struggled with writing another book in my first series. I tried to come up with a realistic way she could go on as she always had. Alternatively, I toyed with the idea of a kind of spin-off series, one that would allow her to still be an amateur sleuth, but in not quite the same way. None of what I came up with was satisfying to me.
I also knew there was a serious flaw in the world I’d created for the African Violet Club mysteries. Now, for those readers who love the books, this aspect of the stories worked well. However, it resulted in a number of three-star (and much lower) ratings from other cozy mystery readers. I wanted to eliminate that element (which I intended to do if I wrote a spin-off), but knew there were readers who would be disappointed if I did.
Put all this together, and my just-for-fun project had turned writing into a difficult thing to continue.

That’s why I decided to make 2019 a year of experimentation. I wrote a historical western romance because I’d enjoyed the romance between Lilliana and Christopher and romance sells really well. While I think it’s a decent book, I discovered that I’m not really a romance writer. I’m not champing at the bit to write another romance story.
For the past month, I’ve been working on another mystery series. This is the first time in ages that I’ve been excited to get to the research and planning and writing of a novel each day. I love putting the puzzle together hoping readers won’t find it too easy to unravel. I can envision writing several books in this series, and I’ve learned enough to—hopefully—not repeat the mistakes I’ve made before. Only time will tell.
I’ll have to finish this book and start on the next one—and the one after that and the one after that—to find out if this will be the series where I break out as a novelist.

So, last night, as the Red Sox seemed to be fumbling their way to yet another loss in 2019, I turned off the game and watched something else. There was a rain delay, and I had no real desire to wait through it for more disappointment. Later, I gritted my teeth and checked the final score. The Red Sox won! They’d come back and won the game.
I replayed the game from where I’d left it then to see how that happened, and to feel the joy that a comeback win brings. It’s not the first time in recent days that the Red Sox have come back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit. Even the London games, which they lost to the hated Yankees, had them coming back several times to remain in the game. They just might be able to save this season after the All-Star Game. Because they haven’t given up.

Neither have I.

June Reads

Saturday, June 29, 2019

A couple of mysteries and a look back into the pulp fiction age.

Maids of Misfortune - M. Louisa Locke

An amateur sleuth mystery set in Victorian San Francisco.
Annie Fuller is a widow who owns a boarding house and makes extra money as Sibyl, a fortuneteller. She uses her expertise in things financial (learned from her deceased father) to counsel Sibyl’s clients.
Matthew Voss is a client who has profited handsomely from Sibyl’s advice. When Matthew doesn’t arrive for an appointment, Annie learns that he’s dead, an apparent suicide. Surprisingly, Nate Dawson, the Voss family lawyer, informs Annie that she was left a substantial amount of money in Matthew’s will. There’s only one problem: all of Matthew’s assets have disappeared.
At the same time, she learns that her father left an unpaid debt behind. As his heir, one of his creditors is now seeking restitution in an amount that will cause her to lose the boarding house.
Annie can’t believe Matthew would have killed himself and left his family destitute. She takes a job as a maid in the household to attempt to discover who poisoned him.
A good mystery, although the middle has a bit too much of Annie’s work as a maid for my taste. I’m not sure I care how much she smells of blueing from doing the laundry or how spotted her clothes are when she meets up with Nate, the romantic interest.
I was disappointed in how the crime was solved. A convenient accidental event, which should have occurred several times earlier in the story, provides the clue that solves the mystery. Fortuitously, she’s holding a key object a while later when she needs to solve a problem. I don’t want to say any more for fear of giving away the ending.
The penultimate scene has a ridiculous fight between three women, including Annie, and the killer. He has a knife with which he cuts Annie several times, but he can’t seem to make up his mind whether he wants to rape her or kill her. I didn’t buy it.
I wish the reveal would have been done more adeptly, but that’s always the hardest part of writing a murder mystery. You have to solve the crime in a realistic manner with clues that are already known to the reader, but only put them together in the climactic scene. Still, I enjoyed this book enough to consider reading the next in the series.

The Fiction Factory - William Wallace Cook

A phenomenal book showing how pulp writers made a living. This memoir is about John Milton Edwards, a pulp writer in the golden age of pulps, who created serials, short stories, novels, and sketches in prodigious amounts.
I see a lot of whining about writers who “write too fast” on Facebook. There’s an element that claims it has to take time to write a good book, something like a year or more. They cite George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” and other series made up of large books as examples. Obviously, those authors (mostly indie) publishing a new book every month must be hacks, and their writing must be awful.
But there was a time when other writers were publishing much more fiction than today’s authors are. America had a voracious appetite for tales filled with plenty of action. John Milton Edwards (who was also William Wallace Cook) in 1908 produced 45 Nickel Novels (that’s what they sold for) and seven longer novels. The Nickel Novels were his bread and butter, but he also wrote short stories and serials for $25 - $40 a piece.
He didn’t agonize over writer’s block or need to rest after completing a piece. He immediately started the next story.
And, lest you think his work was poor, he was praised for the accuracy in his books. He spent lots of time researching settings and reading books for background for his stories. He also learned to write clean copy, at most retyping a story once after the first draft.
I found most of this book very inspiring. The narration of how one writer went to work each day determined to make a living from his writing showed the dedication the old pulp writers had. Unfortunately, economics put most of the pulp fiction magazines out of business. It just cost too much to produce print magazines for mass consumption.
Ebooks have brought back a resurgence in short, fun reads. Apparently, the readers of these tales didn’t go away just because the magazines did. And a lot of authors are filling that need and, incidentally, making a quite nice living doing it.

The Case of the Amorous Aunt - Erle Stanley Gardner

Taking a cue from The Fiction Factory, I decided to read one of the better known pulp writers. I think everyone knows Perry Mason from the old television show. Fewer people have read the eighty books written about this iconic character, myself included.
What great fun this book is!
A young woman comes to see Perry Mason because her elderly aunt has fallen for a grifter, a man who is only after her money. She’s afraid he’s going to kill her. This sets in motion a chase to track down the couple, with Perry Mason chartering planes to fly from California to Arizona, detectives Paul Drake and colleagues following various people all over the state, and revelations about other women who have been duped by this man.
Never mind that the original client doesn’t have a whole lot of money, only enough to pay for Mason’s services for two days. No, Perry is off on the adventure, apparently at his own expense, bringing Paul Drake and Della Street along with him.
There are some things that make this novel dated, but they really don’t interfere with the story. For instance, Perry never seems to dial a phone himself. He asks Della to place calls for him. Oftentimes, Della asks Gertie, the never-seen receptionist and switchboard operator, to make the connection first. But despite that, the story is still a good yarn.

Reading the Perry Mason book finally got me to sign up for a trial of Kindle Unlimited. These short mysteries sell for $5.99 in ebook form and most (not all) of them are in KU. I figure if I read only two of these a month, I’m saving money. I think I can probably read more than two with not a lot of effort. This also opens up a bunch of other books that I’d like to read, but haven’t because of the price, including the last two books in Craig Martelle’s “End Times Alaska” series.


Cowboys or Killers?

Friday, June 21, 2019

It’s been an amazing year so far.

I finished the first draft of my historical western romance novel at the end of May. This was a new genre for me, and I have to say it presented its challenges. Between learning what readers expect in a romance, researching what life was like in the 1870s, and getting new words written, I wondered whether I’d bit off more than I could chew.

But I did manage to finish it, and I liked a lot of what I’d written. I also knew there would be extensive revisions necessary before I could publish the book.

There’s also the fact that books sell better when they’re part of a series. Currently, you have to have three books in a series ready to release, with a fourth book in process, before you should publish the first one. That way, you can do what’s known as a “rapid release,” meaning you can publish each of the books no more than thirty days apart. That’s because Amazon’s computers favor new releases in the first thirty days of publication, giving them more exposure. If you can have a book in the series that qualifies for this special attention for a total of 90 days, you stand a good chance of selling a lot of books.

I’m pretty good at math. Since it took me five months to write the first book, I knew it was going to take at least two or three months to write each of the next books. (The first book generally takes longer, because you’re building a whole cast of characters, your setting, and developing the tone for the series.) So it would be the end of the year, assuming revisions go smoothly, before I’d be able to start publishing. That’s a big investment in time.

And I’m not even sure the first book is any good.

So I let my readers decide. I edited the first three chapters and made them available to people on my mailing list, since they’ve most likely bought at least one of my previous books. I set up a survey to ask them what they thought. Of those who responded, most overwhelmingly want me to finish that book. A few of my “superfans” even wrote emails asking me to please hurry and give them the rest of the story.

Hear that sound? That’s me breathing a sigh of relief.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t just twiddle my thumbs while waiting to hear what my readers thought, so I started researching and planning another series. This one is a mystery, but since I seem to be living in the Victorian Age lately, I decided to put this series in that timeframe as well. This time I chose the next decade, what’s called The Gilded Age, for my setting.

I also decided on a male protagonist.

That didn’t come out of the blue. Neither did other aspects of this mystery series. It’s pieces of a story I’ve mulled over for years. I even decided to use a wicked good character name that I’ve been saving ever since I heard it from a real person. It will also take place in a seaside village. I’m kind of tired of the dry desert and wanted to write about a place with water.

Planning for this series is going a lot faster. For one thing, I’m a mystery fan, so I don’t have to figure out how a mystery should work. I know the basic plot points, the mandatory scenes that make up a mystery. I’d already done a lot of the historical research on the time period, so there are only little facts I need to check (until I get to the actual writing). And, as I said, I’ve been noodling this series for quite a while.

I’ve made a map of this fictional town and created the core characters, the ones who will appear in almost every novel in the series. In doing this, this town and its people have really come alive for me. I’m very excited about the whole series, even though I only have sort of a plot for the first book.

My plan is to have the first draft of the first novel in this series done by the end of the summer. Then I’ll have to look at the two series and decide which one I’m going to develop first. It’s going to be a hard decision.

Regardless of which one I decide on, I’ve been having more fun than I’ve had since I came up with the idea for the African Violet Club mysteries. There’s nothing better than making stuff up.

Responding to an Active Shooter

Friday, June 14, 2019
Last month my church hosted a workshop presented by the Arizona Church Security Network. It’s a sad comment on our society that such an organization has to exist, but I’m grateful it does. Too often, churches and synagogues are the target of disturbed individuals who decide the only way to handle their problems is to attack what are often seen as soft targets. I should note that it’s not just shooters, but killers using other types of weapons, such as IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and, in the UK where gun control is stricter than in the U.S., knife attacks. (If you don’t follow world news, Google it. It’s a lot more common than you would think.)

The AZCSN is an all-volunteer organization staffed by current and former law enforcement and emergency response personnel. Workshops are usually held in a five-hour session on Saturdays. Yes, lunch is served.

Some of the things they taught would seem obvious, but they’re not always. The first concept was situational awareness. Most people who attend church always come in and leave by one door at the back of the church. If a shooter comes in that way and start shooting, it probably isn’t the safest way out. Situational awareness includes taking note of all the exits from a room when you first arrive, and particularly noting the nearest exit.

Situational awareness also includes being familiar with what behavior is normal in the situation you’re in. Most people enter a church and find a seat. Sometimes they’ll stop and talk with a friend. But they won’t be pacing up and down an aisle looking anxious. That should be a warning sign and should be pointed out to whoever is a designated safety person. You say your organization doesn’t have one? They should. If you don’t know who it is at the time, mentioning the behavior and pointing out the person to an usher is probably a good idea.

There are YouTube videos on situational awareness to train yourself in what you should look for.

Chris Taylor, the trainer, pointed out that our brains try to bring us to normalcy. A lot of denial goes on when we’re presented with a potentially dangerous situation. Many times, gunfire is presumed to be a car backfiring. When was the last time you heard a car backfire? I know, for me, I wasn’t out of my teens yet. It’s not common today at all. But still, rather than believe someone in our vicinity is firing a gun, our brains go for the non-threatening explanation.

If you’ve seen stories on school shootings, you’ve probably heard of run-hide-fight. This strategy (run if you can, hide if you can’t run, fight if it’s all you can do) makes sense for children, who probably don’t have the size to oppose an adult shooter.

The AZCSN teaches the ALICE system. The acronym stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. These tactics are not sequential. Rather than reacting as a victim, the ALICE system teaches you to use a survival mindset.

I’m not going to die.

The trainer focused on three methods: Lockdown, which includes locking and barricading the door; Counter by throwing things at the shooter which will generally distract him and mess up his aim; and Evacuate, which is self-explanatory. He not only taught us about them, but we did multiple exercises using Nerf balls to throw and being shot at with Nerf guns.

Anything you can push against a door can create a barricade. Furniture works well. Extension cords and belts can be used to tie chairs together and make them harder to move than individual chairs.
If you decide to counter, you have to be all in. People (I’d imagine especially church people) are more likely to pull back, to not punch as hard as they can, than to intentionally hurt the person who’s attacking them. The counter technique works better if there are several people swarming the shooter at once. For an illustration of the effectiveness of the swarm technique, the way the Secret Service and law enforcement reacted when President Reagan was shot is good. (Warning: This is live footage of the incident and may not be appropriate for everyone.)

Evacuate means what it says. If there’s a way out of the room or building that won’t put you in the path of the shooter, you can run for it. You should arrange for a rally point with your family and/or friends, a location where you will meet so you will know all of you are safe. Again, you need to be all in on this. You can’t saunter away from the scene of the crime. You have to run as if your life depended on it, because it probably does.

You have to always remember the survival mindset. Even if you’re shot, keep going. It’s important you remember to tell yourself:

I’m shot. I’m not going to die.

There was a lot more to the class and we had a chance to see how our reactions played out. The first exercises had us practice one of the techniques. The last few left it up to us as to which tactic we would use. I’ll admit, I left it to the big guys to stack the couches against the door. I threw things at the shooter—even if it was only his arm sticking through the opening—then ran.

I highly recommend attending one of these training sessions if you get the chance. As far as I know, you don’t have to be a member of the church hosting the training in order to attend. Check the website for information on upcoming classes.
But we prayed to our God, and because of them we set up a guard against them day and night - Nehemiah 4:9

The Emperor's New Clothes

Sunday, May 26, 2019
The title of this blog is the title of a story by Hans Christian Andersen. I know my mother read it to me as a child, and I’m fairly certain it was one of those stories Captain Kangaroo either read or had an animated version of on his children’s television show. If no one read it to you as a child, I recommend you click on this link and read it now.
In brief, it’s a story about vanity and an obsession with what others think of you. In the end, the only one willing to speak the truth is a little child who, rather than going along with what everyone else is saying, tells the truth as he sees it.

I think we have a serious case of The Emperor’s New Clothes going on in America. A few years back, the buzzword was “politically correct.” Now, it’s disguised behind words like inclusiveness, gender dysphoria, and triggers. Suddenly, society at large is responsible for the wellbeing of everyone. If you don’t believe in open borders, guaranteed income, and sexual reassignment for any who want it, all at government expense, the name-calling begins.

If someone has a different opinion than these progressives, they’re immediately labeled as Nazis by people too young to have grown up in the shadow of World War II. Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party were very much on the minds of everyone when I was growing up. Almost all of our fathers had served in the military and fought in the war. The Holocaust, with its slaughter of six million Jews and more millions of non-Jewish people, was a living nightmare in our all-too-recent past. Using this epithet against people who are nothing like Hitler gives me chills… and enrages me. A difference of opinion does not a Nazi make.
The desire to be accepted, to not be thought unfit for his office and unusually stupid, has led to a nation that willingly espouses the latest demands for equality and sensitivity without thinking for themselves whether or not the emperor has no clothes. Very few want to take the time to investigate if the clickbait headlines are true or not.
This state of affairs has led to removing Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from what’s now called the Children’s Literature Legacy Award because she used a racial slur in one of her books. In fact, it was a common term in those times and, when she heard the objections to it, she changed it in her lifetime. But she’s still guilty, according to a group of very vocal people.
Confederate statues have been removed from public places because they, in the eyes of the left, supported racism. Similarly, roads, buildings, and landmarks have been renamed for the same reason.
And just this week, it was suggested that Thomas Jefferson’s name be removed from the name of an annual Democratic dinner because he owned slaves even though he knew it was wrong.
There’s also the ever-popular idea of “reparations” that tends to get trotted out in election years. There’s a group of people who think that all Native Americans (they call themselves Indians in Arizona) and black people should be paid a sum of money for the wrongs committed against them by white people in the past. So, people living today who have never been fired upon by the U.S. Military or been a slave should collect money from people who weren’t alive when these things happened. How does that make any sense?

The people who do not take these judgments at face value are largely silent, afraid of what the response will be. We’ve all heard about what happened to the bakers who didn’t want to make a custom wedding cake for a gay couple, the demands for boycotts of Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby because their owners are Christian and patriotic. The people wearing MAGA hats or tee shirts who are attacked in public.

But there are two people who are not afraid to voice unpopular opinions. One of them is Donald Trump. I’m not going to get into whether the President is right or wrong on specific issues. That would be too long a blog post and I don’t have the time to research all the points before voicing my opinions. The fact is, he was duly elected by the American people under the rules of the U.S. Constitution. Since then, the Democrats have spent an amazing amount of time and money trying to prove Donald Trump is unfit for office.
The people of the United States of America have spent two years and somewhere between twenty-five and forty million dollars on the Mueller Investigation. The conclusion was that there was no collusion with the Russians and no obstruction of justice. But the Democrats aren’t satisfied with that. They want to conduct more investigations, many of them calling for impeachment (for what high crime or misdemeanor?), waste more time and more of our money, and basically not do their jobs until the next election, when they believe they’ll finally be able to get rid of him.
Meanwhile, what meaningful legislation has Congress passed in the last two years?

The other is Jordan B. Peterson, who became famous in America for his book “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos”. He’s been famous in Canada for a lot longer for objecting to a Canadian law for adding "gender identity and expression" as a prohibited ground of discrimination. He claimed that it was “compelled speech,” and that just because a person with XX chromosomes identifies as male, he shouldn’t be forced to call her “him.”
Peterson is an incredibly intelligent man. Although his training is in psychology, he has also extensively studied philosophy, biology, history, and religion. He espouses such unpopular ideas as all people are not equal and that a hierarchy is inherent in nature. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t believe in equality, but it does mean that he objects to men identifying as women being able to compete in women’s sports. Looking at the facts of that, it’s obviously true. Men are stronger, more muscular than women. I think the fact that transgender women (whether taking hormones or having had surgery or not) have been allowed to compete and win in track events and wrestling is a travesty. The fact that they want to is not enough. It’s the equivalent of letting me replace Tom Brady as quarterback of the NE Patriots.
I’m not going to go into more detail about Peterson. This blog is already too long. He has a YouTube channel where you can watch dozens of videos of interviews and lectures. Let me warn you, though, that these are not cat videos. Many of them go on for two-three hours and are very dense. He brings up references from all of the various fields he’s studied and it helps to know something about them in order to understand the references.
But to get back to my original point, Cambridge University rescinded Peterson’s visiting fellowship because “(h)is work and views are not representative of the student body.” In other words, some students didn’t like what he was saying, so he wasn’t allowed to say it.
This is a very frightening trend in the land of free speech. What happened to I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it?

Finally, I’m going to tie this back to Hans Christian Andersen’s original story which, if you have gotten this far, I’m going to assume you’ve read, so what I’m about to say won’t be a spoiler. At the end, when faced with incontrovertible proof that the clothes don’t exist, the emperor decides to continue his parade down the streets of the town naked rather than giving up his belief in them. I’ll leave the modern analogy to you.

Climbing Mountains and Shiny New Toys

Sunday, May 19, 2019
I’m happy to report that I’ve written over 9,000 words on my new western romance so far in the month of May. That’s not nearly as many as I should have. In fact, since I’m writing this on May 19th, I should have at least twice as many words as I do. But it’s a lot more than I’ve written in each of the past two months.

Writing a book is often like crossing over a mountain. You start off full of energy and enthusiasm for this new story you’re about to tell. The opening words come easily, and you’re sure this is going to be your best book yet. After a few thousand words, the path gets steeper. This isn’t as easy as you thought it would be. You realize you didn’t develop your characters as thoroughly as you should have before you started. You’re not sure what order those scenes you envisioned need to come in. (There are some writers who don’t write in order. They write whatever scene intrigues them at the moment. Then, when they think they’ve written them all, they shuffle them around until they form a story.)

As you get toward the middle of the book, you’re getting tired from the struggle. You can see the top of the mountain shrouded in clouds, but you have no idea what’s on the other side. But you break out your pitons and rope to help you up. Sometimes the path gets so difficult, you need to pull out an ice axe and chisel out your way. That’s the phase I’ve been in for a while.

Finally, you reach the summit. The thrill of approaching victory courses through your veins. You might even give a fist-pump and shout “Yes!” You can see the way down from the mountain. That’s the stage I reached this week. The writing is starting to be fun again.

There’s a long way to go yet, and then a major editing session. I already know I have a sequencing problem early in the book that I’ll have to work out. And, as always, I’ll have to add transitions between scenes and more sensory details. Often as I write, I know there are chocolate chip cookies in the oven, but I might forget to write that down. Or, if I do, I haven’t mentioned the delicious sweet smell that fills the house.

Since I can see the end now, my brain has started to think about the next writing project I’m going to tackle. The problem is, there are so many stories I want to start. I know I need to write the next African Violet Club mystery. I’ve come up with a brand new idea for a different mystery series, this one more of a traditional mystery rather than a cozy. And part of me wants to go back to that first series I wrote and finally write the fourth book. And give it new covers.

This is referred to as shiny new toy syndrome and is common among writers. They have so many ideas and so many stories they want to write, they can’t decide which one to do next. They might start all of them, then jump from one to the other because the one they’re working on isn’t quite as shiny as they thought it would be. They’ve reached the steeper part of climbing the mountain. The problem with this approach is that no novel gets finished in a timely manner. With new writers, you can just say no novel gets finished.

So my next step is to finish the book I’m working on, then prioritize the other books I want to write. Wish me luck!

Reading the Bible

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Six weeks ago, I decided to join a women’s Bible study on Saint Paul’s epistle to the Hebrews. I’ll be honest. My primary motivation in doing this was to get to know some people at my church. Being an introvert, I’m not very good about hanging around during coffee hour and making small talk, so I hadn’t learned the names of too many of my fellow worshipers. The women’s Bible study seemed like a non-threatening way of meeting new people and, incidentally, learning something of interest to me.
I have met some women—Barb and Jo and Margie and Nancy—and it’s nice to recognize familiar faces when I see them again on Sunday morning. I can’t say any of them are friends yet, but I see the potential for friendships. So, I’ve accomplished what I thought was my primary goal in joining this group.
But, much to my surprise, the real value has been the Bible study itself. Now, I’ve been a Christian for most of my life. I’ve belonged to Bible study groups before and read some books on my own. But this is the first one I’ve belonged to that leans heavily on the concept of scripture interprets scripture.
Each week focuses on the next section, often a chapter, sometimes more or less depending on length, of the book of Hebrews. There are five lessons to work on during the week that further break down the week’s assignments by verse. This is where things get interesting. Most of the time, the words from the verse or verses of Hebrews refer you to other passages in the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments.

Now, some of these are obvious. The Gospels often quote from Old Testament prophecies to show how Jesus fulfilled them. Or the apostles in their epistles will quote from the Old Testament to illustrate a point because, especially with the book of Hebrews, which was addressed to the Jewish people, the recipients are familiar with those teachings. But going back and reading those in the original books of the Bible not only gives them context, it also reenforces the lesson. The writers of the books of the New Testament weren’t just making this stuff up; they were leaning on the ancient teachings of the religion they were a part of before Jesus came.
And then there are references to other books in the New Testament where again the same message may be stated in different words or the teaching may reference what is to come by having you read something from the book of Revelation. This study has changed my perspective on the Bible.
To understand this, you have to realize that for ten years I attended a church where the pastor seemed to pick and choose what parts of the Bible to consider correct. In fact, that turned out to be the reason I left that church. He didn’t like apocalyptic writing or Satan or the notion that there was good and evil in the world. In fact, to him the evil was within each individual, a matter of ego more than anything. He cringed any time the lectionary Bible readings for a week included references to Judgment Day or punishment because our God was a god of love and He loved everyone. Over time, I started to see the Bible as a collection of books where some books were more Biblical than others. But it struck me as wrong to see it that way. That viewpoint didn’t sit right with what I had been taught for most of my life.
Through the current Bible study I’m doing with the women of my new church, the books of the Bible are being knit back together into one whole, with one message and focus. And that feels right to me.

Photo Credit: Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Books I Read in April

Tuesday, April 30, 2019
Know You More (Savannah Sweethearts #1) by Jan Thompson

I loved this book. The characters were richly drawn and I became so involved with them, I actually remember who they were and what they wanted. That may seem like a strange comment, but too often lately, I've finished a book and not been able to remember details about it the next day.

This book is heavy on Bible quotes and faith questions, which at times can put me off, but since the romance is between a pastor who is planting a church and a longtime friend and member of his congregation, it fits in this case. The multi-ethnic characters are real people and not caricatures, which happens too often lately as writers consciously include diversity in their books.

As with all good romances, it has a satisfying ending that made me feel good.

I will be reading the rest of the series—and other books by Jan Thompson.

Fourth and Long (The Three Rivers Ranch Romance Collection #3) by Liz Isaacson

I am slowly working my way through this eleven-book series that I bought as a collection several months ago. While collections like this can result in a significant savings, often being sold for 99 cents, the number of books, particularly if the stories aren’t gripping, means it takes a long time to finish them.
In this installment, Kate Donnely travels to Three Rivers Ranch to introduce her son, Reid, to his father. The boy was conceived during a brief marriage, but seven years later is only now meeting the father he’s dreamed about. Shortly after Brett Murphy was deployed to Afghanistan, Kate had an affair with another man. She wrote Brett, asking for a divorce, but the affair didn’t last and she’s still married to Brett.
There’s only one reason she’s doing this now. Her mother has passed away and has made Kate’s inheritance conditional upon her getting the divorce documents signed or showing proof to a lawyer of a happy marriage and family. She’s ostensively come for the first, but since this is a romance, you know she’s going to wind up with the second.
I struggled to finish this book because of an annoying plot device. During the seven years they’ve been apart, Kate wrote letters to Brett on a regular basis, but never mailed them. Similarly, Brett wrote emails to Kate, but never sent them. So that makes this one of those romances where everything could have been resolved quickly had they each shared these letters early on. Instead, it takes pages and pages of quoting them before they tell one another they had them. And that they still had feelings for one another.
Reid is too perfect for a child, especially a boy. He never objects to being sent off so Kate and Brett can have a conversation or throws a temper tantrum or whines. I would have liked more of a real boy.
I also found the Christian aspect of this Christian romance not very well integrated with the story. It could have been taken out and it wouldn’t have changed a thing about the book.
So, while I want to finish up this series, I’m temporarily reading something else before trying the next book.

End Times Alaska: Endure by Craig Martelle

Craig Martelle runs the 20 Books to 50K Facebook group, a group dedicated to each author being the best they can be by their own definition of what that is. The group is filled with encouragement, positive stories, and lots of information about how to sell books. So when this book of his went on sale, I bought it to find out what kind of books he writes.
This is an adult post-apocalyptic novel. Fairbanks has been hit by a nuclear bomb, wiping out all utilities and supply lines. Retired Marine Chuck Nagy and his family must find a way to survive in the harsh winter of Alaska.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book as Chuck solves the problems inherent in this situation. He finds food for both his family and his dogs, scavenges equipment from the homes of those who did not return from Fairbanks, and tries to unite the few survivors left.
This is definitely a situation where you have to read the series to know the whole story, and I’m trying to squeeze the next book into my reading schedule so I can do that. I was pulled into the story. The characters were well-drawn and the setting, being a place I’ve never been to, was intriguing.
Recommended, even if it’s not your usual genre.


Monday, April 22, 2019
The year 2019 is nearly one-third done. Writing that, my chest squeezes down on my heart, which responds by beating faster, and I have the urge to hyperventilate.

According to my goals list, which I wrote up at the end of last year, I should have published the second book in my historical western romance series by now. That, of course, implies that I also should have published the first book. I am nowhere near doing either.

That’s why I’m fighting going into a full-blown panic attack this morning.

Writing a book is easy. I type fast, and once I get started, often the words appear on the page before I’ve consciously thought them in my brain. The problem is getting started and having a well of words—the story—stored up in that brain before I sit down.

I had no idea how difficult writing a new series in a new genre was going to be. Writing the African Violet Club Mysteries over the past several years has become a matter of choosing a victim, a motive, a method, and the murderer. I then think about all my continuing characters and how they will be involved in this book. Because the characters and the setting are so familiar, many chapters write themselves. I’m confident I can make the mystery work because I’ve done it six times before in this series.

But I’ve never written a romance of any sort, let alone a historical romance. And, to make things more complicated, little bits of a Christian theme have been sneaking in as I write. This scares me to death, because I made huge mistakes when writing my first mystery series, which I thought was Christian fiction, but turned out to anger many Christian readers.

A few weeks ago, because I was having such a hard time with the subplots, I decided to just write the main romance plot, with hopes that as I got that sorted, the other pieces would fall into place. But I didn’t get very far with that. So my sneaky brain came up with a way to avoid writing.

Over time, two long lumps have developed in my living room carpet. It also could use a good shampooing after living here more than a year. So I decided to inquire at the office about the lumps, if nothing more than to cover myself, to make sure they knew the lumps existed before I had the carpet cleaned. Much to my surprise, they treated this as if it were a common occurrence, and said, “Oh, you need a carpet stretch. What time can we schedule the carpet people to come in?”

I’d never heard of getting a “carpet stretch.” Of course, I’d never seen a carpet do what mine had done anywhere else I’ve lived either. I have to assume that it’s because the apartment complex probably uses cheap carpeting that stretches out over time. Not that I blame them. Since they replace it almost every time someone moves out, which has to be after only a few years, it would be very expensive to use good quality carpeting in the apartments.

However, that required making time for the carpet person to come in and evaluate the situation, then moving the furniture from one side of the room to the other, which required emptying the bookcase of DVDs, the TV stand of knickknacks, and the African violet fixture of African violets. You know what happens when you take things off shelves, right? Yes, you see all the dust that has collected behind those things and have to give every shelf a good dusting. Then there’s moving the items, which also included the dining room table and six chairs. And then you have to break the vacuum out, because now that the furniture’s been moved, you can get to all those places that you tend to avoid caring about on a regular basis.

That led to thinking about rearranging the furniture now that it had to be moved anyway. And to replacing my bedroom set. What?

I used to live in a house with very large rooms. When I moved into the house, I bought a bedroom set to fill up that space. It’s a large set and the bed is queen-sized. The movers were able to barely make it fit in the apartment master bedroom. It fits, but it’s hardly pleasing to the eye. Plus, I need a new mattress after who knows how many years. And I thought, why do I need a queen-sized bed? I’m only sleeping on about a third of the mattress I have.

So I started doing internet searches on twin bedroom sets to see how much that would cost and what’s available. This wasn’t entirely the reason I made no book progress last week. With the furniture moved over to one side and even out of the room, I couldn’t sit at the dining room table with all my planning materials spread out to figure out that romance plot. (My desk is quite small and most of the top is taken up with my iMac.) Besides, I wasn’t sure what I could figure out.

And then, as I was finishing up putting things back in place in the living room and had decided to wait for Memorial Day sales to replace the bedroom, a wonderful thing happened. The meeting announcement for my local RWA chapter arrived, and the speaker is Laurie Schnebly Campbell and the topic is Braiding Your Book - about weaving the various plot threads in a novel. Just what I need! So, while I should be working on that plot now that everything is back in place, I’m thinking maybe I should wait until after the workshop Saturday, so I know what I’m doing.

Except you’re supposed to bring your current WIP to work on during the workshop.

My idea to wait is just another way of procrastinating. :::sigh:::

I’m hoping by writing this blog post I can get over my procrastination hump. If I don’t decide I need to do my nails. Or laundry. Or work on this week’s Bible study. Or finishing up that beta read I agreed to. So many ways to avoid writing!

Lilliana's Fairy Garden

Friday, April 05, 2019
Last week I told you I had another project I wanted to do. Have you been eagerly anticipating what that was?

Probably not, but I have.

Ever since I came up with the concept of a fairy garden on Lilliana’s patio with the mailbox flag to signal Uaine, I’ve wanted to have the real thing for myself.

Here it is!

I really like it. Oh, it isn’t perfect. The soil needs to settle a bit. I didn’t want to press it down and compact it around the roots. And I didn’t realize the mailbox I ordered—which does open and close and the flag does go up and down—wasn’t to scale with the rest of the pieces. I also didn’t use the same assortment of plants I describe in the books. I decided to stick to succulents which stand a better chance of surviving our arid climate.

I’m still doing another kind of gardening—plot gardening—for the next African Violet Club mystery. The working title for this one is Golden Yellow Murder, but that might change. I’m not quite sure what will happen yet, but I think there will be swords involved. And maybe even a battle axe. Blame my local Sisters in Crime chapter, where we’re scheduled to have an expert speak on sword fighting this month.

I also haven’t decided whether Christopher will stay safely tucked away in Scotland while Lilliana continues to solve murders at the retirement home or whether they’ll solve murders together in the future. I’m thinking of something like Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man) or possibly something like Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence. Both of those are kind of dated, but I’m not aware of any modern couples who are amateur sleuths and solve mysteries. Do you know of a more current series like that?

I’ve also been making steady, if slow, progress on my western romance. You won’t see that one any time soon, I’m afraid.

At least I’ve discovered a writer who writes romances with the kind of rich prose I aspire to. Nora Roberts! (Don’t laugh. I told you I haven’t read much romance in the past.) I downloaded a boxed set of The MacKade Brothers Collection and I’m highlighting things in the first book like crazy as I read it.

March was a busy month, and April looks to be even busier!
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Elise's bookshelf: currently-reading

A Clash of Kings
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